That’s All Folk

In this blog entry, Rachel Clare Donaldson, author of  “I Hear America Singing,” writes about the folk music that inspired her.

In 1997 Smithsonian Folkways released Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music on CD. I was in high school, working at a local record store and my boss proclaimed it to be the best release that year. At the time, folk music was going through something of a resurgence in popularity—Billy Bragg and Wilco had just released Mermaid Avenue, a collection of Woody Guthrie songs that he had never recorded, set to original music by the musicians. “California Stars” became a staple of my local radio station out of Woodstock, New York. (While this was popular with a host of people, try as I did, I could not convince the prom committee of my high school to use it as the theme song.) After learning to appreciate popular renditions of folk songs, I was ready for the “real” thing. I think I received the Anthology for my 18th birthday, and the music was like nothing I had ever heard before.

I Hear America Sing_smThe interesting part about this is that just as the Anthology introduced me to the world of folk music—or, more specifically, commercial recordings by both amateur and professional regional musicians during the late 1920s—it had done the same for a cohort of folk enthusiasts that were at least three generations older than I. The Anthology consists of selections from the massive personal collection of 78s that Harry Smith, a record collector and artist, compiled into six LPs released as a set through Folkways Records in 1952. When this hit the record shelves, or more likely the shelves of public and school libraries, it introduced young listeners to something completely different. Although these recordings were only twenty or so years old at that time, they sounded worlds away from the popular music of era. It was as if they came from an entirely different place—a place that music theorist and critic Greil Marcus referred to as the “old, weird America.” And the places that they did come from—small recording studios in the Mississippi Delta; Louisiana Cajun country; and towns like Bristol, Tennessee, among others—were entirely different from the urban neighborhoods and suburban communities where these young listeners lived. The music had an air of authenticity and oddity that contrasted sharply from the pop music of early Cold War America. The fact that Smith selected these recordings precisely because they were odd, and wrote cryptic liner notes to accompany the collection, only enhanced the Anthology’s aura of mystique.

Indeed, it was the very same scenario for me, growing up during a time when boy bands and Brittany Spears dominated the pop charts. I continued listening to the Anthology (it provides an excellent background for writing papers) throughout college and graduate school, but never with the intention of turning it into a focal point of my first book, “I Hear America Singing.” As my interests turned from Medieval Studies to American Studies to southern labor history and then to the history of the folk music revival, I had the good fortune to study something that I loved. A fellowship at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the home for Smithsonian Folkways Records, brought me back to where it all began. But, even though the Anthology has turned into a key component of my research, it still remains a fixture of my personal music taste. At the end of my wedding, when it took a few moments for our friend who did the music to load up the recessional song, Henry Thomas’s “Fishing Blues” (the last song on Volume Three), I explained to everyone that it was worth the wait, for this was perhaps the happiest sounding song of all time. I still believe that.

Celebrating University Press Week with a look at Temple University Press’ influential Asian American History & Culture Series

It’s University Press Week! All week long university presses will be participating in the UP Week Blog Tour, where presses will be blogging each day about a different theme that relates to scholarly publishing.

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November 12 – Subject Area Spotlight: Throwback Thursday: A look back at an influential project or series.

Ask the Temple University Press staff for examples of influential scholarship and they respond unanimously with the books in the Asian American History and Culture series (AAHC). The series was founded in 1991 by Sucheng Chan and represented the Press’s commitment to an emerging academic field that has from the start been rooted in communities and unique experiences of race and ethnicity.

ToSaveChinaAcrossPacificChineseAmTrans

Under the guidance of Temple University Press Editor-in-Chief, Janet Francendese and series editor Chan, AAHC books immediately began to shape the discipline. Pioneering AAHC titles such as Gary Okihiro’s Cane Fires (1992), Renqiu Yu’s To Save China, To Save Ourselves (1995), Evelyn Hu-DeHart’s Across the Pacific (1999), and Sucheng Chan’s Chinese American Transnationalism (2005), had a profound impact on scholars, many of whom went on to become Temple University Press authors.

TianFicAs the series evolved, it attracted young scholars who learned from their forerunners. Many authors appreciated the fact that the AAHC provided an outlet for Asian American scholarship at a time when it was not always easy to find one. AAHC books often addressed the relationship between ethnic studies and globalization when this kind of work wasn’t de rigueur. One young scholar, Belinda Kong, author of Tiananmen Fictions Outside the Square (2012), saw the series as a beacon for academic publishing. She became interested in work that had a transnational focus and linked Asian America to Asia, and saw in the series a home for her work.

 

 

SumPartsOther trends emerged as the series developed, and the AAHC positioned books in a field that had been shifting and changing—not unlike the demographics in Asian American populations. The Sum of Our Parts, edited by Teresa Williams-León and Cynthia Nakashima (2001), became a key text on mixed-race scholarship and continues to be frequently referenced. At a point when mixed-race studies primarily addressed black and white examples, The Sum of Our Parts put Asian Americans at the forefront.

WorldNextDoorDesis

The AAHC series promotes rigorous scholarship on Asian America, but the series editors encourage scholars to push their work in new directions. As such, authors came to address a myriad of issues about identity and region within Asian America. Transnational scholarship became a significant focus around 2000, as scholars foundational to Asian American studies developed frameworks of analysis beyond the nation. Titles such as The World Next Door, by Rajini Srikanth (2005), about South Asian American literature, and Sunaina Maira’s Desis in the House (2002), about Indian American youth culture in New York City, reflected Indian culture at home and abroad.

thisisallLikewise, This Is All I Choose to Tell, by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud (2010), and Transnationalizing Viet Nam by Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde (2012), focused on Vietnamese American literature and culture in the diaspora, respectively. These and other books were integral to developing this academic exploration.

CaneFiresThe approach to the discipline exemplified in the AAHC series has been widely embraced; 9 of the 18 Association of Asian American Studies Presidents—Sucheng Chan, Gary Okihiro, Franklin Odo, Elaine Kim, Yen Le Espiritu, Rajini Srikanth, Rick Bonus, Josephine Lee, and, Linda Trinh Võ—have been Temple University Press authors. All but one of those scholars (Kim) have published in the AAHC series; her book was published before the series was established. Such influence is an accomplishment the press is particularly proud of.

In addition to reporting on and influencing changes in the discipline, books in the AAHC series have won numerous prizes. Cane Fires received the Outstanding Book in History and Social Sciences from the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) in 1992, and since then, nine other titles in the series have won AAAS prizes.

TVNAAHC books have won various other awards as well. Six have been named “Outstanding Academic Titles” by Choice, the American Library Association publication. Other titles have won prestigious awards from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America, as well as from history, sociology, political science and LGBT associations.

To date there are 65 books in the Asian American History and Culture series, more than any other press with a similar Asian American studies list. The authors cross disciplines, trained in a variety of fields in humanities and social science, which is unique for such a series. It will continue to grow as one of the key components of Temple University Press’ list. In time, the students of the current scholars influenced by AAHC titles will be publishing their books in the series, taking it into other new, exciting directions.

Elect these books for your reading list

On election day, we highlight ten Temple University Press titles with a focus on elections and campaigns.

Dollars and Votes: How Business Campaign Contributions Subvert Democracy, by Dan Clawson, Alan Neustadtl and Mark Weller

DollarsVotesScandals, including questionable fund-raising tactics by the current administration, have brought campaign finance reform into the forefront of the news and the public consciousness. Dollars and Votes goes beyond the partial, often misleading, news stories and official records to explain how our campaign system operates. The authors conducted thorough interviews with corporate “government relations” officials about what they do and why they do it. The results provide some of the most damning evidence imaginable.

The striking truth revealed by these authors is that half the soft money comes from fewer than five hundred big donors, and that most contributions come, directly or indirectly, from business. Reform is possible, they argue, by turning away from the temptation of looking at specific scandals and developing a new system that removes the influence of big money campaign contributors.

Mandates, Parties, and Voters: How Elections Shape the Future, by James H. Fowler and Oleg Smirnov

MandatesMost research on two-party elections has considered the outcome as a single, dichotomous event: either one or the other party wins. In this groundbreaking book, James Fowler and Oleg Smirnov investigate not just who wins, but by how much, and they marshal compelling evidence that mandates—in the form of margin of victory—matter. Using theoretical models, computer simulation, carefully designed experiments, and empirical data, the authors show that after an election the policy positions of both parties move in the direction preferred by the winning party-and they move even more if the victory is large. In addition, Fowler and Smirnov not only show that the divergence between the policy positions of the parties is greatest when the previous election was close, but also that policy positions are further influenced by electoral volatility and ideological polarization. This pioneering book will be of particular interest to political scientists, game theoreticians, and other scholars who study voting behavior and its short-term and long-range effects on public policy.

Campaign Advertising and American Democracy, by Michael M. Franz, Paul B. Freedman, Kenneth M. Goldstein and Travis N. Ridout

Campaign AdvIt has been estimated that more than three million political ads were televised leading up to the elections of 2004. More than $800,000,000 was spent on TV ads in the race for the White House alone and Presidential candidates, along with their party and interest group allies, broadcast over a million ads-more than twice the number aired before the 2000 elections. What were the consequences of this barrage of advertising? Were viewers turned off by political advertising to the extent that it dissuaded them from voting, as some critics suggest? Did they feel more connected to political issues and the political system or were they alienated? These are the questions this book answers, based on a unique, robust, and extensive database dedicated to political advertising.

Confronting prevailing opinion, the authors of this carefully researched work find that political ads may actually educate, engage, and mobilize American voters. Only in the rarest of circumstances do they have negative impacts.

Choices and Changes:  Interest Groups in the Electoral Process, by Michael M. Franz

ChoicesChangesChoices and Changes is the most comprehensive examination to date of the impact of interest groups on recent American electoral politics. Richly informed, theoretically and empirically, it is the first book to explain the emergence of aggressive interest group electioneering tactics in the mid-1990s—including “soft money” contributions, issue ads, and “527s” (IRS-classified political organizations).

Michael Franz argues that changing political and legal contexts have clearly influenced the behavior of interest groups. To support his argument, he tracks in detail the evolution of campaign finance laws since the 1970s, examines all soft money contributions—nearly $1 billion in total—to parties by interest groups from 1991-2002, and analyzes political action committee (PAC) contributions to candidates and parties from 1983-2002. He also draws on his own interviews with campaign finance leaders.

Civic Talk: Peers, Politics, and the Future of Democracy, by Casey Klofstad

Civic TalkDoes talking about civic issues encourage civic participation? In his innovative book, Civic Talk, Casey Klofstad shows that our discussions about politics and current events with our friends, colleagues, and relatives—”civic talk”—has the ability to turn thought into action—from voting to volunteering in civic organizations.

Klofstad’s path breaking research is the first to find evidence of a causal relationship between the casual chatting and civic participation. He employs survey information and focus groups consisting of randomly assigned college freshman roommates to show this behavior in action. Klofstad also illustrates how civic talk varies under different circumstances and how the effects can last years into the future. Based on these findings, Klofstad contends that social context plays a central role in maintaining the strength of democracy. This conclusion cuts against the grain of previous research, which primarily focuses on individual-level determinants of civic participation, and negates social-level explanations.

The Making of Asian America through Political Participation, by Pei-te Lien

MakingAsian Americans are widely believed to be passive and compliant participants in the U.S. political process—if they participate at all. In this ground-breaking book, Pei-te Lien maps the actions and strategies of Asian Americans as they negotiate a space in the American political arena.

Professor Lien looks at political participation by Asian Americans prior to 1965 and then examines, at both organizational and mass politics levels, how race, ethnicity, and transnationalism help to construct a complex American electorate. She looks not only at rates of participation among Asian Americans as compared with blacks, Latinos, American Indians, and non-Hispanic whites, but also among specific groups of Asian Americans—Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, Asian Indians, and Vietnamese. She also discusses how gender, socioeconomic class, and place of birth affect political participation.

The Change Election: Money, Mobilization and Persuasion in the 2008 Federal Elections, edited by David Magleby

ChangeElectionThe 2008 election was an extraordinary event that represented change at many levels. The candidates’ innovative campaigns changed how funds were raised, how voters were mobilized, and how messages were communicated through advertising and the Internet. Parties and interest groups played their own important role in this historic election. In The Change Election, David Magleby assembles a team of accomplished political scientists to provide an in-depth analysis of this groundbreaking presidential election. Through a set of compelling case studies, these scholars examine the competition for votes in a dozen competitive House and Senate contests and in the race for the White House in five states: Ohio, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Backed by a wealth of data and extensive interviews, the contributors provide an up-close look at the interactions of candidates’ individual skills and personalities with the larger political forces at work in the election year. This book offers insights into the rapidly evolving organizational and technical aspects of campaigning.

Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns, by Charlton D. McIlwain and Stephen M. Caliendo

RaceappealIn our evolving American political culture, whites and blacks continue to respond very differently to race-based messages and the candidates who use them. Race Appeal examines the use and influence such appeals have on voters in elections for federal office in which one candidate is a member of a minority group.

Charlton McIlwain and Stephen Caliendo use various analysis methods to examine candidates who play the race card in political advertisements. They offer a compelling analysis of the construction of verbal and visual racial appeals and how the news media covers campaigns involving candidates of color.

Combining rigorous analyses with in-depth case studies-including an examination of race-based appeals in the historic 2008 presidential election—Race Appeal is a groundbreaking work that represents the most extensive and thorough treatment of race-based appeals in American political campaigns to date.

The Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertising, by Travis N. Ridout and Michael M. Franz

Persuative PowerThe Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertising offers a comprehensive overview of political advertisements and their changing role in the Internet age. Travis Ridout and Michael Franz examine how these ads function in various kinds of campaigns and how voters are influenced by them.

The authors particularly study where ads are placed, asserting that television advertising will still be relevant despite the growth of advertising on the Internet. The authors also explore the recent phenomenon of outrageous ads that “go viral” on the web-which often leads to their replaying as television news stories, generating additional attention.

The Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertising features the first analysis of the impact on voters of media coverage of political advertising and shows that televised political advertising continues to have widespread influence on the choices that voters make at the ballot box.

Public Financing in American Elections, edited by Costas Panagopoulos

Public financingReformers argue that public financing of campaigns will help rescue American democracy from the corruptive influence of money in elections. Public Financing in American Elections evaluates this claim in an effort to remove the guesswork from the discussion about public finance.

Featuring some of the most senior scholars in political science and electoral studies, this book provides an up-to-date treatment of research and thinking about public campaign finance reforms. Exploring proposals at the local, state, and federal levels, the contributors provide a comprehensive overview of public financing initiatives in the United States and an examination of their impact. Also included are focused analyses of various existing public programs.

 

Considering the dynamics and representations of oversexualized black women

In this blog entry, Trimiko Melancon, author of Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality, and Representation, discusses contemporary dynamics regarding race, gender, and sexuality.

A week ago I served as an invited moderator for a college student forum, “Freakum: The Hypersexuality of Black Women.” What the event and the students organizing it sought to explore, in part, were representations of black women. More specifically, how today’s portrayals of black women are images of them as the event flyer and prompt indicated, “oversexualized to the point where a black woman cannot just be portrayed as a woman, but as a sexual being.”

Questions from students ranged from inquiries attempting to ascertain the history of such images and if black women and blacks generally are in control of media representations of their sexuality. There were also discussions of black female pop cultural icons, including mega superstar Beyoncé Knowles and leading televisual personas Olivia Pope (ABC’s Scandal) and Mary Jane (BET’s Being Mary Jane). While the forum was stimulating, and the students were very intellectually engaged, I was struck by how, even in the twenty-first century, their understandings of these dynamics and representations of black women were punctuated by, and articulated through, binaries. Either they expected black women to uphold respectable representations always, or to do the diametrical opposite: be both carefree and, indeed, free to not at all worry about or contend with how they carry themselves or are perceived and, ultimately, portrayed.

Unbought_smIn these very notions of black womanhood and representations—and the still, at times, limiting or narrow roles or characterizations confronting them—reverberates the precise motivation and premise behind my book, Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality, and Representation. My book idea actually started during my very own matriculation as an undergraduate English major struck by and grappling with representations of black women in literature. These interests became the groundwork of my college senior honors thesis, doctoral dissertation, and now this first book—a reflection, of course, of the evolution and intellectual maturity of those formative ideas over the course of more than a decade of research, critical thinking, and writing.

In Unbought and Unbossed, I examine post-civil rights representations of black women in literary and cultural texts of the 1970s and 1980s, informed by and produced during consequential political movements: civil rights, feminism, black nationalism, gay liberation, and the sexual revolution. This is a particularly significant era precisely, in part, because of the ways in which black women’s texts of the era embody and embrace a shift in terms of representations. Unbought and Unbossed explores how these moments create a space, cultural and political, for “the transgressive:” representations of black women who transgress and challenge racial, gender, and sexual circumscriptions or mandates that impose particular roles and circumscriptions of female identity on black women. Ultimately, I argue for far greater complexity (and complex understandings) when it comes to black women, representation, and sexuality—especially in terms of what constitutes “woman” and “normativity.” But I also illuminate how certain behaviors/actions operate as strategies in these literary and cultural texts. Sexuality becomes representative of not simply intimacy but, more broadly, of a larger aspirational desire for more complex understandings, renderings, and notions of race, gender, and sexuality as it relates to black (female) bodies. These women exercise their rights to be full citizens, in the racial and sexual sense, reminding us not to falsely mark any, every, and all expressions of black sexuality as perverse, illicit, or pathological but, rather, to afford blacks the range both allowed their white counterparts and reflective of the human (sexual) condition.

Unbought and Unbossed explores various moments, literary and cultural, post-civil rights and contemporary—from Toni Morrison’s novel Sula and Nelly’s rap video Tip Drill and tons in between. It does so to illumine not only the racialization of sex and the ways race, gender, and sexuality intersect. But, it also enables us to better understand the black sexual revolution, representations in the age of First Lady Michelle Obama, and the complexities surrounding black sexuality. And so, just as I asked the students to consider what black sexuality might look like unencumbered by stereotypes and either/or binaries, so, too, does Unbought and Unbossed ask all of us to contemplate this notion, as well as transgress simplistic conclusions regarding black women and black sexuality. After all, it is the twenty-first century and time to allow blacks the full measure of their humanity, sexual and otherwise.

Trimiko Melancon is an Assistant Professor of English, African American Studies, and Women’s Studies at Loyola University New Orleans. Learn more about her work on her website www.trimikomelancon.com or connect with her on Facebook (Trimiko Melancon) or Twitter (@trimikomelancon).

Celebrating Filipino Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlights eight Temple University Press titles that explore the identity, cultural diversity and community formation of Filipino Americans.

Locating Filipino Americans by Rick Bonus

BONUS 1439_regLocating Filipino Americans, an ethnographic study of Filipino American communities in Los Angeles and San Diego, presents a multi-disciplinary cultural analysis of the relationship between ethnic identity and social space. Author Rick Bonus argues that alternative community spaces enable Filipino Americans to respond to and resist the ways in which the larger society has historically and institutionally rendered them invisible, silenced, and racialized. Bonus focuses on the “Oriental” stores, the social halls and community centers, and the community newspapers to demonstrate how ethnic identities are publicly constituted and communities are transformed. Delineating the spaces formed by diasporic consciousness, Bonus shows how community members appropriate elements from their former homeland and from their new settlements in ways defined by their critical stances against racism, homogenization, complete assimilation, and exclusionary citizenship. Locating Filipino Americans is one of the few books that offers a grounded approach to theoretical analyses of ethnicity and contemporary culture in the U.S.

On Becoming Filipino by Carlos Bulosan

Bulosan 1184_regA companion volume to The Cry and the Dedication, this is the first extensive collection of Carlos Bulosan’s short stories, essays, poetry, and correspondence. Bulosan’s writings expound his mission to redefine the Filipino American experience and mark his growth as a writer. The pieces included here reveal how his sensibility, largely shaped by the political circumstances of the 1930s up to the 1950s, articulates the struggles and hopes for equality and justice for Filipinos. He projects a “new world order” liberated from materialist greed, bigoted nativism, racist oppression, and capitalist exploitation. As E. San Juan explains in his Introduction, Bulosan’s writings “help us to understand the powerlessness and invisibility of being labeled a Filipino in post Cold War America.”

Filipino American Lives by Yen Le Espiritu

Espiritu 1157_regMen and women, old and young, middle and working class, first and second generation, all openly discuss their changing sense of identity, the effects of generational and cultural differences on their families, and the role of community involvement in their lives. Pre- and post-1965 immigrants share their experiences, from the working students who came before WWII, to the manongs in the field, to the stewards and officers in the U.S. Navy, to the “brain drain” professionals, to the Filipinos born and raised in the United States.

As Yen Le Espiritu writes in the Introduction, “each of the narratives reveals ways in which Filipino American identity has been and continues to be shaped by a colonial history and a white-dominated culture. It is through recognizing how profoundly race has affected their lives that Filipino Americans forge their ethnic identities—identities that challenge stereotypes and undermine practices of cultural domination.”

The Day the Dancers Stayed by Theo Gonzalves

Gonzalves 1947_regPilipino Cultural Nights at American campuses have been a rite of passage for youth culture and a source of local community pride since the 1980s. Through performances—and parodies of them—these celebrations of national identity through music, dance, and theatrical narratives reemphasize what it means to be Filipino American. In The Day the Dancers Stayed, scholar and performer Theodore Gonzalves uses interviews and participant observer techniques to consider the relationship between the invention of performance repertoire and the development of diasporic identification.

Gonzalves traces a genealogy of performance repertoire from the 1930s to the present. Culture nights serve several functions: as exercises in nostalgia, celebrations of rigid community entertainment, and occasionally forums for political intervention. Taking up more recent parodies of Pilipino Cultural Nights, Gonzalves discusses how the rebellious spirit that enlivened the original seditious performances has been stifled.

San Francisco’s International Hotel by Estella Habal

Habal 1820_regThe struggle to save the International Hotel, in the San Francisco neighborhood known as Manilatown, culminated in 1977 with the eviction of elderly tenant activists. Many of them were Filipino bachelors who had emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s for menial labor. Each evicted tenant was accompanied by at least one young activist who had come to find their roots in the lives of the “manongs” (respected elders).

San Francisco’s International Hotel is part history and part memoir. In telling this compelling story, Estella Habal features her own memories of the Anti-Eviction Movement, focusing on the roles of Filipino Americans and their participation in both the anti-eviction protests and the nascent Asian American movement. She rounds out the narrative with a variety of sources, including interviews with other participants, the notes of insiders, and official reports.

The Philippine Temptation by E. San Juan

San Juan 1193_regIn this incisive and polemical book, E. San Juan, Jr., the leading authority on Philippines-U.S. literary studies, goes beyond fashionable post-colonial theory to bring to our attention the complex history of Philippines-U.S. literary interactions. In sharp contrast to other works on the subject, the author presents Filipino literary production within the context of a long and sustained tradition of anti-imperialist insurgency, and foregrounds the strong presence of oppositional writing in the Philippines.

San Juan goes beyond literary studies and contemporary debates about nationalism and politics to point the way to a new direction in radical transformative writing. He uncovers hidden agendas in many previous accounts of U.S.-Philippine relations, and this book exemplifies how best to combine activist scholarship with historically grounded cultural commentary.

Tiongson 1763_regPositively No Filipinos Allowed edited by Antonio T. Tiongson, Jr., Edgardo V. Gutierrez and Ricardo V. Gutierrez

From the perspectives of ethnic studies, history, literary criticism, and legal studies, the original essays in this volume examine the ways in which the colonial history of the Philippines has shaped Filipino American identity, culture, and community formation. The contributors address the dearth of scholarship in the field as well as show how an understanding of this complex history provides a foundation for new theoretical frameworks for Filipino American studies.

Pinoy Capital by Benito Vergara, Jr.

Vergara 1920_regHome to 33,000 Filipino American residents, Daly City, California, located just outside of San Francisco, has been dubbed “the Pinoy Capital of the United States.” In this fascinating ethnographic study of the lives of Daly City residents, Benito Vergara shows how Daly City has become a magnet for the growing Filipino American community.

Vergara challenges rooted notions of colonialism here, addressing the immigrants’ identities, connections and loyalties. Using the lens of transnationalism, he looks at the “double lives” of both recent and established Filipino Americans. Vergara explores how first-generation Pinoys experience homesickness precisely because Daly City is filled with reminders of their homeland’s culture, like newspapers, shops and festivals. Vergara probes into the complicated, ambivalent feelings these immigrants have—toward the Philippines and the United States—and the conflicting obligations they have presented by belonging to a thriving community and yet possessing nostalgia for the homeland and people they left behind.

So Yesterday

In this blog entry, Allan Johnson, author of The Gender Knot and The Forest and the Trees writes about how things have changed—or have not—since the last editions of his classic Temple University Press books.

Awhile back I received an email from a college teacher using one of my books, The Gender Knot, in her class. She mentioned a disagreement among her students about whether my account of male privilege still holds true. One of the students settled the argument by flipping to the front of the book where the copyright date is found and pointing out that, well, there it is, the thing is eight years old.

That was easy.

Gender Knot 3e_smApparently, there is a ‘believe until’ date on descriptions of reality, or at least ones we’d like to see go away. And social systems can change almost as fast as Apple puts out a new iPhone, except, unlike Apple, no one has to actually do anything to make it happen. I don’t know exactly how many years it takes for a book to lose its credibility, but for some readers it is shorter than the average length of time that people own a car.

Sometimes I hear from a student who wants me to know that however bad things may have been for my generation, things are different now. That was then and the new generation has left all that behind.

There is of course change, and there is good research showing that most of it happens between generations, but the idea that we can go from up-to-your-necks to past-all-that in the space of a few decades, not to mention years, is something else.

What might account for such sudden and dramatic change they do not say, as if it somehow explains itself. It’s not that I don’t get it. When I think back to being nineteen or so, I don’t think it occurred to me that my generation might have been a continuation of anything remotely connected to that of our parents. We didn’t have to do anything to be unlike them, to break from the past, to start all over, because something new is what we were in spite of all those years of going to school and reading books and watching tv and everything else that goes with being socialized to fit the world into which we are born.

And don’t adults give graduation speeches exhorting young people to go out and be the hope of the future by being different from them?

It speaks to the power of both individualism and wishful thinking that we can sustain what amounts to a myth of self-invention by which each generation starts out fresh and decides who they are without having to deal with any historical or emotional baggage that they didn’t pack themselves. If everything is all about my experience and I don’t experience the thing myself, then it must not be there. “I have never been discriminated against as a woman,” she says. “I don’t see color,” says he. “If I can do what I want then so can anyone else.”

The myth of self-invention is connected, in turn, to the idea that everyone is different from everyone else. I’ve never really known what that means, or, more precisely, why it matters so much. Why should we care that no one out there is an exact match for us when the thing that makes our lives possible is all the ways in which we are alike—presenting ourselves and behaving in ways that other people will understand and accept as familiar. So what if there are dead ringers for me somewhere in the world?

And if everyone is supposedly unique, then it follows that everyone must have their own opinions and perceptions. I suppose that’s true in the sense that everyone has their own underwear, but, again, what does that mean when those same opinions and perceptions (not to mention underwear) show up in millions of other people, there being only so many possibilities?

And yet, we persist in the idea that our experience and what we know are somehow both unique to us and independent of the world through which we come into being and exist. I think, therefore I am—not I belong, connect, relate, share, participate, or continue some form of what came before.

Which brings me back to expiration dates on reality and how easily unpleasant things get relegated to a ‘past’ where they no longer apply, as if we can give them up as we would a habit or a fashion. And if problems like race or gender or poverty persist, it must be because there are individuals who, for whatever reason, have decided to be different from the rest of ‘us.’

The thing is, though, that social systems, and systems of privilege in particular, do not continue from force of habit, inertia, or individual choice. They are more than a collection of self-conscious attitudes or beliefs or styles that come and go on their own or through individual self-improvement.

Systems continue because of powerful forces exerted across generations, including adaptations to new circumstances so as to preserve the underlying structure and effect while seeming to have changed. “Power does not yield except by demand,” wrote Frederick Douglass more than 100 years ago, and as far as I can tell, recent history records precious little of that.

Layout 1The illusion of change is on my mind because a new edition of The Gender Knot, along with another of my books, The Forest and the Trees, has just been published. I spent months digging into the latest data, reviewing what’s been published in books and journals. And has anything changed? Well, of course. We have a black president, for one, and same-sex marriage is gaining support, and words like ‘transgender’ have entered our vocabulary.

But the evidence is also overwhelming that the basic structures of male privilege and white privilege and class privilege and even heterosexual privilege remain solidly intact. The epidemic of rape everywhere from the military to college campuses, the almost complete lack of progress toward gender equity for more than 20 years, the devastation of people of color in the most recent economic collapse, racial segregation and discrimination in hiring and the criminal justice system, the dramatic surge of economic inequality, the almost complete dominance of state and national politics by corporations and the wealthy, the patriarchal capitalist juggernaut that continues its systematic destruction of the Earth . . . you get the idea.

This is not to say that we don’t have the potential to reinvent ourselves, both as individuals and as a society. After all, that is what my work, both public and private, is all about. But such invention comes only from our active engagement with the reality of what has been and how it continues into the present, however much it may shape-shift into forms that give the appearance of change. And however much we might wish it otherwise.

“The past,” wrote William Faulkner, “is never dead. It’s not even past.”

What we know about gender, race, and STEM – African American women

Sandra Hanson, author of Swimming Against the Tide explains that African American women are interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

A recent publication (in Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology) by a group of psychologists found that race and gender intersect in understanding Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) attitudes and participation. The research team was headed by Laurie T. O’Brien and focused especially on African American women. The researchers and subsequent media reports on the findings (e.g. in Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education) expressed surprise at the high interest and participation in STEM among African American women. Several decades ago I began doing research on African American women in STEM funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Although some researchers have not focused on the way that race/ethnicity and gender interact to affect STEM experiences we have known for some time that we can expect the unexpected when it comes to African American girls and women in STEM. Some have argued that because women do less well in STEM and minorities do less well in STEM, there will be a double disadvantage for African American women.

Layout 1The argument of double jeopardy sees race and gender as additive. My findings from a representative sample of young African American women (published in a number of journal articles and in my book, Swimming Against the Tide: African American Girls and Science Education) suggested otherwise. Quantitative data from my sample and larger NSF surveys as well as open-ended questions and responses to vignettes were critical in measuring the young women’s experiences. They loved science. The young African American women signed up for science classes, loved doing experiments, went to science camp, and had posters of scientists on their walls. One young woman said that “science was like opening up a present from your favorite aunt.” My findings provided considerable evidence for the African American family and community as key in understanding this love of science. African American families have always made considerable investment in and had high educational and occupational expectations for their daughters.

African American women have historically combined work and family roles. The answer to young African American women’s high level of interest and participation in STEM does not come from schools and teachers. In fact, the young women in my sample experienced considerable difficulty in the STEM classroom. One young girl reflected the opinion of many when she described the attitude of science teachers –“They looked at us like we weren’t supposed to be scientists.” The young women reported not being called on in the classroom and not being chosen as lab partners. Somehow, in spite of the chilly classroom climate, a disproportionate number of African American women manage to “swim against the tide” and persevere in STEM education and occupations.

Data from NSF show that African American women persist in many areas of STEM at a higher rate than do white women. My recent research on the male dominated area of engineering shows that even here African American women earn the largest share of doctorates relative to men (when looking within race/ethnic groups). In my testimony to the U.S Congress (Subcommittee on Girls in Science) I suggested that we need better teachers, science classrooms, and science textbooks. When young African American women look around them and see white teachers and white scientists in the science textbooks, they do not feel welcome. The considerable agency that African American women show in the context of a white, male STEM culture is encouraging. One can only imagine the increased number of talented African American women who would participate in STEM education and occupations in a more welcoming climate. The major science organization in the U.S. – the National Science Foundation – has recognized the problem and is funding a good number of programs to encourage minorities and minority women in STEM. After all, diversity in science makes for better science.

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